Engine Club Becomes Family Tradition

The Jack Branch Engine Club began, and became family tradition, 45 years ago with one man and the purchase of a Fairbanks-Morse Model Z.


| June/July 2014



Part of Wise family engine collection

A lineup of Wise family engines at the Jack Branch Engine Club’s annual Crank-Up in October 2013. From left to right: Jim Wise’s 7 HP Witte sideshaft (serial no. 12321), Jeremy Wise’s 4-1/2 HP Le Napoleon (serial no. 6039), Jim’s 2-1/2 HP Christensen (serial no. 9799) and Jim’s 6 HP Jacobson (serial no. 1536). Jeremy bought the Le Napoleon engine from cousin Bob Gill a few years ago. It was built by Simplicity and sold through Eug. Julien & Cie. Ltee, Quebec, Canada.

Photo by Charles Wise
Back in 1968 when A.C. “Junior” Henderson purchased a 1916 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse Model Z engine, little did he know that he was starting a hobby that would become a family tradition for the next 45 years.

The 3 HP Z was originally used to pump water at Bothwell Lodge, a stone, castle-like mansion that was home to Sedalia, Mo., lawyer, politician and philanthropist John H. Bothwell. Junior grew up in the shadow of the mansion, and even helped work on the Fairbanks-Morse Model Z and the home’s Delco-Light plant as a young man. When one of the caretakers of Bothwell Lodge offered to sell Junior the engine, he jumped at the chance. A year later, in 1969, the mansion was given to the state of Missouri and is currently a state historic site that offers tours of the historic home.

Once the engine was home, Junior got the engine running on the floor of his garage. Though his wife, Ruth, and his four daughters didn’t think much of his new “toy,” his nephews Jim Wise and Bob Gill did. Bob remembers the night his uncle Junior started the engine for him: “It was a very cold evening and the engine was in his garage without any doors and a gravel floor and no heat,” he says. “About that time Aunt Ruth came out to drive to church, a big woman, she put her hands on her hips and said, ‘Well I never, two grown men sitting out here on the ground in freezing weather listening to a damn ol’ engine run.’”

After seeing his uncle’s engine, Bob took his new interest in gas engines back home to Paducah, Ky. His first engine was a 6 HP throttle-governed IHC Famous, which he purchased in Tennessee. “Fubb” Holder, a co-worker of Bob’s then brother-in-law Robert Drake, knew of the engine and took them to see it. The owner originally shot Bob a price of $15 for the engine, until Fubb interjected, “Hell, it’s worth more than that!”

“I had $90 and needed a tank of gas to get back to Paducah,” Bob says. “I stammered around and finally offered him $40.” Though it probably seemed like a lot of money to the young collector at the time, it is now a highly prized engine.

Within a couple of years, Bob’s longtime friend Gene George also started collecting engines. The two had known each other since third grade, and both worked at the Union Carbide Gaseous Diffusion Plant near Paducah. In 1975, Gene heard about a 10 HP M International Harvester near Boaz, Ky., from a co-worker.

“It was in a falling down mill building,” Bob remembers, “engine in one room, the grist mill in the other, but the roof had collapsed on the grist mill and it was not worth fooling with.” They purchased the engine for $200 and restored it later that year. Bob and Gene located a 30-inch Meadows grist mill a few years later, and put their 10 HP M International to work. They decided they needed to make some money to finance their engine-buying hobby, so they ground and sold cornmeal at engine shows and craft fairs. Eventually the two came to the conclusion that they were missing the shows trying to make money, so they quit.